Dirty Car Windows Become Artist's Canvas

Team Infidel

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SAN MARCOS, Texas (AP) - Every so often, Scott Wade will drive his Mini Cooper up and down the rough, gravelly road near his Texas Hill Country home.
But Wade isn't taking pass after pass on the inhospitable road to test his shocks or for the thrill of the ride.
He needs the dust for art's sake.
Wade, with his scraggly graying hair and a fondness for shirts with wacky prints, doesn't wash his car when it first develops a fine coating of limestone dust. For the past four years he's created art on it instead.
The self-proclaimed "dirty-car artist" uses typical tools such as brushes to "paint" surprisingly detailed works on the rear windshields of his Mini and Mazda.
But this isn't the "Wash me now!" or team mottos that grace dusty jalopies all across America. Wade has painted a good likeness of the Mona Lisa, superimposed over a replica of van Gogh's "The Starry Night." Less highfalutin is his rendition of the black-velvet classic of dogs playing poker. Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" is also represented in the dusty canvas of a Mini Cooper windshield.
Rather than applying paint or charcoal to his "canvas," Wade, 48, reveals the glass windshield and dark interior of the car by removing dust.
"Every time they see a window, people can't resist," said Wade, who lives with his wife, Robin Wood, and daughter in the hills near San Marcos. "I've always drawn pictures on dirty windows."
But Wade's first drawings turned out simple and cartoonlike because he used his finger. Then he experimented one day with a frayed Popsicle stick and he realized he could get a whole range of gray tones to create more complex pieces.
"It wasn't a conscious decision to develop a new art form," he said. "It was just looking for art in everything."
It takes about two weeks with little rain to develop what Wade calls a natural canvas, which has a layer of dust that doesn't blow away because it's caked on with the help of morning mist.
But if he feels a calling sooner, he spends some time driving in the car on the local roads to fill in the gaps. He can also coat the windshield with vegetable oil so dust sticks faster or he can apply a dustlike substance called pyrolite.
Most pieces take an hour or less, depending on the quality of the canvas. Even a natural canvas, which Wade considers the best, can get too thick and clumpy to work with if it's been baking in the sun for too long.
Wade periodically licks the end of his tools to get through the dust and pauses often to examine his progress.
A graphical user interface designer by day, Wade has also done an ode to late Texas Gov. Ann Richards and to his late collie mix, Drifter.
"There's something about doing the dearly departed that's very appropriate," he said. "It reminds me that life passes us by very quickly and we have to enjoy it while it's here."
Fans have even suggested that he offer up his services for funerals, using the ashes of someone who was cremated to create their likeness.
Wade estimates he's done 50 pieces so far. He rarely washes them off, preferring to let them fade naturally with the wind or rain. And he never tries to preserve them, except in photographs.
"You tend to keep wanting to fuss with it," Wade said. "Since it's temporary it doesn't have to be perfect. You don't have to belabor it."
Now Wade, who has a degree in art from Texas State University, is putting together a coffee table book and seeking out commercial work. He also sells a few prints from his Web site. He's already made appearances both locally and internationally.
Texas State University art and design professor Brian Row, who taught Wade, said temporary art is legitimate.
"They're really transient art which, again, artists have done," Row said, citing performance art. "You experience it once and it's gone. ... It certainly falls within the range of the way artists work."
Row compared Wade's entire artistic process to a life cycle. "The canvas is created as he drives down his driveway and then he works on it and then it gets washed off, it disappears. In some ways it's kind of like a snow storm: You can see beautiful scenes but it's a very transitory experience," Row said.